The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost their last two games, but are feeling fairly good about themselves after taking two of the league's best teams down to the wire.
Cleveland won't be feeling any positive vibes if it can't beat the NBA's worst team, which it may have to do without Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
The Cavaliers hope to have Irving and Waiters available as they begin a seemingly softer portion of their schedule looking for a fifth victory in six home games Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Cleveland (9-15) had won three straight and five of six before heading to Miami on Saturday, where it led with four minutes remaining before falling 114-107.
The Cavs returned home to face Portland on Tuesday and trailed by 10 with two minutes left before tying the score with a 12-2 run. But Damian Lillard hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to send Cleveland to a 119-116 defeat.
"We're making progress," coach Mike Brown said. "I just want to be a little bit better this month than we were last month. ... When it really counts, we're going to be really good."
Brown's club, which begins a stretch with six of nine games against sub-.500 teams, has certainly gotten better on the offensive end. The Cavaliers have scored at least 107 points in each of their last four games after cracking triple digits four times in their first 20 contests.
Cleveland has shot 47.0 percent in that stretch after shooting 41.7 percent in its 7-13 start. Kyrie Irving, who shot 39.4 percent and averaged 19.7 points in the first 20 games, has averaged 28.0 points and 48.2 percent from the field in his last four.
"They have gotten better at doing what we're asking of them - demanding of them - in terms of pushing the pace," Brown said. "Kyrie's done a phenomenal job of getting that ball and going with it and taking advantage of his speed and his skill set before the defense even has a chance to get set."
Irving, however, missed Thursday's practice with an illness while Waiters - averaging an East-high 15.5 points as a reserve since he started coming off the bench Nov. 20 - sat out with tendinitis in his right wrist. Both are considered questionable.
There wasn't a whole lot of defense played when these teams met at the Bradley Center on Nov. 6. Milwaukee (5-20) hit a season-high 13 3s - O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal were a combined 10 of 12 - in holding off Cleveland 109-104 despite Irving's 29 points.
The Bucks won without Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and Brandon Knight.
Knight comes into this meeting off his most productive game in the NBA, though it wasn't enough to help Milwaukee avoid a fourth straight defeat. He had a career-high 36 points but committed eight of the Bucks' 20 turnovers in a 107-101 double-overtime loss to New York on Wednesday.
Milwaukee again was short-handed. Mayo missed the game to attend his grandmother's funeral while Neal sat out for the fourth time in seven games due to plantar fasciitis and is out indefinitely. So is Ilyasova, who has a lingering ankle issue.
Sanders and Zaza Pachulia remain out, but Caron Butler is expected to return Friday after missing nearly a month.
'You have to try and manage and weather the storm,' Butler said. 'We need to get the right groups out there and remain positive. Adversity builds character.'
Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has averaged 11.0 points and 8.3 boards in his last four games and made his first start Wednesday, although Mayo will return Friday.
Knight, who went seven picks after Irving in the 2011 draft, seemed to play his best against Cleveland's star while with Detroit. His 20.6-point average and 54.5 percent shooting versus the Cavs are his best numbers against any team.
Irving's 27.0-point average against Milwaukee is also his best, though this will be his first look at Knight in a Bucks uniform.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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